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Pyle: The choices we make

Published July 5, 2013 5:30 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

"Our lives are made up of thousands of everyday choices. Over the years these little choices will be bundled together and show clearly what we value." — Boyd K. Packer, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The folks who run Weber State University made a choice. They named the school's new family support program the Boyd K. and Donna S. Packer Center for Family and Community Education.

It sounds like a great set of programs, from early childhood literacy efforts to classes to help parents better understand the developmental progress of their own children.

But some people have a little trouble with the name university officials chose. And, last week, the university brass chose to dismiss a professor who was among those voicing a complaint.

The name, a bald-faced effort at trolling for contributions, honors one of the longest-serving general authorities in LDS Church history.

Boyd and Donna met at what was then Weber College in 1947, where both earned associates degrees. But they left Weber, and Packer went on to earn his bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees from other universities. Other than some undoubtedly dear memories, the couple has had little to do with the campus since.

Someone else who will soon be having little to do with the WSU campus, involuntarily, is Jared Lisonbee, for the last two years a WSU assistant professor of child and family studies.

Lisonbee was among those who thought, quite reasonably, that naming a collection of programs aimed at helping all kinds of families after a man who is so very vocal about his belief that there should be only one kind of family was, well, awkward. Especially at a university that is taxpayer-supported and, supposedly, secular in nature.

Packer, after all, is one of the more vociferous spokesmen, in the church and out, for the belief that all this newfangled stuff like feminism, gay rights and — gasp! — intellectuals personify what's wrong with life in America today.

Well, not only does Packer have a right to his own opinions, it is his job — his calling — to express those thoughts. Often. From pulpits and podiums and on worldwide broadcasts.

But one might think that Lisonbee, who has a Ph.D. in family studies from Auburn University, also has a calling, in this case to speak up for the idea of a university that welcomes all kinds of families.

So he told his superiors at WSU that he thought it was a bad idea to name their family center after an outspoken advocate for limiting the definition of family to only the sort he was comfortable with. A few months later, Lisonbee was told his contract would not be renewed and he could find another situation.

The university, as is often the case whenever anyone is fired, laid off, not renewed or otherwise separated, is officially mum on Lisonbee's case and his concerns. Except to say that WSU values academic freedom.

Yeah, right.

WSU officials are probably correct in saying that most families accepting help from the Packer center won't know, or care, who Packer is, what he's said or what he might think of those people's families if he ever met them. And that they will benefit from the fundraising boost the Packer moniker will provide.

Hungry people, after all, don't spend a lot of time considering the provenance of the food they are given. They don't have much choice in the matter.

The people who run Weber State University do have a choice. And there seems little doubt that they've made a couple of poor ones.

George Pyle, a Tribune editorial writer, will happily choose to read your thoughts about this matter. Email: gpyle@sltrib.com. Twitter: @debatestate